Believe it or not, we’re just a few days away from Christmas! If you have a family tradition of going to the movies this week, you have several good options available. But if you’re looking for something that perhaps means a little bit more, your best bet might be Illumination’s The Grinch.

First off, if you had any reservations about this film not being true to the book or the TV version, you don’t have to worry much. Yes, there are differences — after all, they do have to stretch this thing out to 90 minutes! But the overall tone fits. And despite the longer running time, you won’t feel like you’re watching filler.

The biggest change is the expanded role of Cindy Lou Who and family. Here the tot is the daughter to an overworked single mother and goes all Home Alone in an attempt to see Santa Claus in order to make sure he gets her letter. OK, that sounds like a major shift from the original, but really it’s just an updated way for Cindy Lou and the Grinch to get their eventual meeting.

There are two minor things that were off a bit tonally for me. One was the family dynamic. Where the rest of Whoville felt like a fantasy world with oddball characters, Cindy Lou Who and family felt ripped out of our reality. I think having the family seem more relatable might have worked better had not every one else not felt so cartoony. Secondly, the Grinch was a little too sympathetic. Yes, he’s a mean one, but you kinda like him too much!

The film is very funny. The best bits are getting to see a lot more of the Grinch’s planning and scheming, and seeing him actually interacting with the townsfolk as he goes about his life. A very fun addition to the story is a Who named Bricklebaum who is so over the top jolly that he believes he and the Grinch are great friends.

The animation in The Grinch is absolutely beautiful. The bright colors and lights and decorations of the holiday pop off the screen. Even the Grinch himself looks positively cuddly with his intricate fur animation. The character designs are mostly OK, with some Who’s seemingly unique and others looking like cookie-cutter copies. And, as appropriate for Seuss, there are a lot of interesting gadgets and gizmos throughout.

Musically things are a bit clash-y. There is a good score and some great Christmas songs (including somewhat surprising from overly sensitive Hollywood, actual carols about the birth of Jesus!). But then there are several hip-hop interludes. Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with that style of music in general. But it was not a good match within this particular film.

I wasn’t as enamored with most of the lead voice acting choices. Benedict Cumberbatch used an odd and kind of distracting accent for the Grinch. You do get used to it, but it definitely feels like a put on voice, not a natural one. Rashida Jones, as mom Donna, probably gave a fine performance but since the character just didn’t mesh with the story it’s hard to say. Cameron Seely as Cindy Lou Who was good for the direction they wanted her to go. Narrator Pharrell Williams was given some not-so-great Seussian rhymes that made his performance feel worse than it probably was. The brightest spot was Kenan Thompson as Bricklebaum — his voice was such a perfect fit for the Christmas obsessed Who’s that he probably could have voiced the entire town and I would have bought it!

This new Grinch is different, it’s modern, and it’s longer. But it’s also cheerful, hopeful, and joyful. In the end, it has what matters most to both the story and the character himself: a heart that’s just the right size for Christmas. This film is charming and a worthy successor to the original — something your family will welcome this holiday season and in years to come… despite Benedict Cumberbatch’s weird accent.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

The Grinch
Universal, Illumination
November 9, 2018
86 minutes
Rated PG
directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney